We have access to a wide range of materials. But some have a bigger impact on the planet than others. We can’t continue with what we are accustomed to because it’s what is destroying the planet in the first place. We must strive to be more innovative and use sustainable building materials rather than the concrete we are (too) familiar with.
You’ll be glad to hear that there are many alternatives and they are nothing but boring. These sustainable building materials could revolutionize the way we design entire cities.
The problem with current building materials
At the moment, the way we build buildings and other structures is not sustainable in any way, and here’s why. First of all, cement (the main component of concrete) is one of the biggest contributors to climate change since a very large amount of energy is needed for its production. Currently, this energy is produced through fossil fuels which is where most of the carbon emissions lie.
Another vital component of concrete is sand. Tonnes of this natural material is extracted from the ocean, destroying ecosystems and reducing biodiversity in the process.
Finally, when buildings are knocked down, most of the concrete ends up in landfills. Even though it could be reused, not many actually recycle it. As it is not biodegradable, it will remain in landfills for hundreds of years.
The other popular building material is timber. Even though this one is in fact renewable, there are better alternatives that are better for the planet as you will see below.
To make architecture more sustainable, architects and companies need to start choosing more sustainable building materials that don’t have such a negative impact.
Most Sustainable Building Materials
Did you know that bamboo is not actually a tree? It’s a type of grass.
Bamboo is a famous material in the sustainability sector and it’s not surprising. The biggest reason for this is its fast growth rate. While most trees used for construction timber take years and years to grow, bamboo can grow really fast making it a more renewable source.
Additionally, it can grow in nearly any soil condition, nearly anywhere around the world, and doesn’t need pesticides to grow well. It also has many other desirable physical properties including durability and the fact that’s it is lightweight.
Not that many people are aware that cork can be used as a building material or to manufacture products, but it makes an excellent choice as a sustainable material. Cork is tree bark and therefore a renewable source. However, this is mainly found in Europe so it will need to be transported a long way to reach other continents.
Cork is a very good insulator which why it is mainly used for flooring and insulating walls. Also, it’s naturally water and fire-resistant. It’s not surprising why many consider this as one of the most sustainable building materials and why it’s currently in high demand.
Its resistance and flexibility are some other reasons why cork is so desirable.
03. Reclaimed/recycled wood
Wood is already used in construction and manufacturing. Due to its versatility, it could be used in so many different structures around a house or building. I would say wood is somewhat eco-friendly as it is renewable. But what would make it even more sustainable is using recycled or reclaimed wood. The reason for this is that more forests don’t need to be cut down. By using recycled wood, we protect forests and ecosystems and release less emissions into the atmosphere.
Keeping what we already have in the loop is key in reaching a circular economy.
04. Reclaimed/recycled metal
Metal is certainly a very important material in our society. We can make so much using metal. It is a finite resource but since it can be recycled over and over again, it is deemed sustainable.
Recycling metal like steel requires less energy than the initial production. Metal is very durable so it can last a long time without needing replacement which is another bonus.
Reclaimed metal is slightly different than recycled metal because it doesn’t need to be remolded to create a new product. It could be reshaped or altered in some way but not reprocessed, meaning less energy is produced and better for the environment.
Hemp is another material that is gaining popularity, It’s already used in the fashion industry to make fabric. Now it is also used in the architecture
Two things are used to make this unique material. The fibers from hemp and lime (a mineral). The result is a lightweight material that looks like concrete. But unlike concrete, it releases fewer emissions, is a better insulator and does not destroy the environment.
06. Recycled plastic
Since we produce so much plastic, it only makes sense to recycle it and use it for something else to reduce plastic waste. Recycling plastic reduces energy consumption and the need to extract more material from the earth. There are the main advantages of using recycled plastic.
The plastic can be turned into boards, sheets, or bricks depending on different needs. It’s very long-lasting too so it won’t need to be replaced as often.
This is just one example of how we could reduce our landfill waste.
07. Straw bales
This one is quite different from the most sustainable building materials which are created with new technology and knowledge. People started using straw bales long, long ago.
It’s a great insulator and cheap to produce. Not to mention it’s a readily available material. It just shows that we don’t need loads of money to construct sustainable buildings.
It varies from house to house but different materials are used to finish it. Wooden panels are often used on the inside and outside and a clay plaster is applied to finish it.
Ferrock is yet another one made of recycled materials, steel dust, and silica. It’s stronger than cement too. To top it all off, it’s carbon neutral since it absorbs carbon dioxide while it dries. This innovative, carbon-neutral material could be a game-changer in the future. Or at least it could help advance the building industry by using the same or similar principles.
New Innovative sustainable building materials
With new technology, there’s also new types of material being invented.
- Bamboo reinforced concrete
- Tesla solar panels
- Transparent wood
- Artificial spider silk
- Self-healing concrete
There are so many options, so why stick to what we are used to. If we wish to make cities more sustainable, then constructing with sustainable building materials is a must.
By using new technology as well as old fashioned methods, it’s possible to create beautiful and environmentally friendly cities.
It’s clear that the methods we are using now are not good for the planet and cannot be sustained in the future. So let’s change.
All images from Unsplash